Interview with Rakesh Maria, Mumbai’s new Police Commissioner

One of India’s best-known police officers, Rakesh Maria has a persona that has found its way into both books and celluloid. Noted for his hands-on style and investigative skills, he spoke to Priyanka Kakodkar in his first detailed interview since taking charge a week ago.

You have spoken of a return to basic policing. Why is that?

I have emphasised that we must study the patterns of crime which will help with better deployment. We will be increasing patrolling, especially in areas where there are women and senior citizens and attending to crime in the neighbourhood. If there is a dada in the area, it should only be the police inspector. Our focus has been so much on maintaining law and order that perhaps basic policing got a bit neglected.

Is Mumbai safer, post-26/11? There was a huge coordination problem which led to the National Security Guard arriving late. The 26/11 Inquiry Commission clearly said the police lacked ammunition and even firing practice.

I think much water has flowed under the bridge after 26/11 and the city is much better prepared. During 26/11 we had to wait for the NSG to arrive. Today, we have Force 1 stationed in Mumbai which has been trained and is as good as the NSG. Our Quick Response Teams are in place. Equipment has been strengthened. We have also started anti-terror cells in different police stations which will be working in tandem with the state Anti-Terrorist Squad to ensure that intelligence inputs are given their due.

The 26/11 terrorists used the sea route. Are our coasts safer than they were five years ago?

We have been working on that. There is much better coordination with the navy and coastguard. We have regular meetings. A lot still needs to be done when it comes to fishing boats and trawlers and marine patrolling but we have made a beginning. We are also working towards strengthening intelligence gathering with local fishermen. We have set up ‘Suraksha dals’ with fishing cooperatives so they can inform us if there is any suspicious movement.

Since you supervised the 26/11 probe, are you disappointed there has been no action against the foreign players involved?

We did our job and so did the government. The conspiracy was hatched on foreign soil. We collected enough evidence and gave it to the government which raised the issue as best it could.

Infighting within the Mumbai police has always been a major problem, and surfaced even during 26/11. How will you address this?

It’s rather unfortunate that it should have been there. As long as I am Police Commissioner, I will ensure that we work cohesively as a team.

The Siege, a recent book on the 26/11 attacks, spoke of an ISI mole in the Indian security establishment which helped facilitate the strike. Your comments.

I have nothing to say about that book.

The Mudgal report indicted the Mumbai police for not probing the role of Dawood Ibrahim in the IPL betting scam. Is this something you will address?

I have just taken over and will have to review the case.

How will you bridge the gap with the Muslim community which feels targeted by the police? In the 2006 Malegaon blasts, Muslim men were arrested. But the arrests were questioned after Swami Aseemanand’s confession that the Hindu Right was behind the attack.

We have undertaken programmes to bridge the gap with the minority community. We are looking at confidence-building. Arrests have to stand the test of judicial scrutiny and the case should be strong enough to secure a conviction. Our focus will be on such arrests.

Has the presence of the underworld reduced in Mumbai compared to what we saw in the 1990s with extortion calls to builders and Bollywood?

We can say organised crime activities are under control but we can never take our foot off the pedal. To say it is finished would be wrong. They can come up very fast. Several top leaders of the underworld are not in the country. In a city like Mumbai, extortion is always on their agenda. The way to crush organised crime is not just to make out cases but also to finish them off financially and cut their economic lifeline.

Fake encounters and encounter specialists in Mumbai and Gujarat are facing judicial scrutiny. What is your position on this?

Encounters are not planned, they happen. This is mainly because the policeman concerned is responding to being fired at. You cannot control organised crime through encounters. I don’t agree with the term ‘encounter specialist’; it is a creation of the media.

priyanka.k@thehindu.co.in